Thursday 30 July 2009

Don't Count Your Blessings Before They Are Hatched

Wouldn't that be wonderful. To have your blessings in front of you, like eggs, and to know they are likely to hatch, like the eggs, and be nice little bonuses for you. Fancy noting that there were six blessings in the basket and knowing that even if only half of them hatched, you would experience three Good Things happening to you.

My blessings/eggs are in the form of 16 Year Old Son moving to live in London with my excellent sister in law while he attends college in September. If this blessing/egg hatches, he will show her his good side all the time, and put into practice all the watching he has done, of me doing the washing, cooking, shopping, tidying and hoovering and show her he knows how it is done. If it doesn't hatch, he will fix her with a cold stare and tell her where she is going wrong and even though it is fairly hopeless that she should ever go right, give her some stern pointers as to what to at least try before it is too late.

If it goes right, 16 Year Old Son will say What Fun This Academic Work Is And Gosh There Is So Much I Have To Learn with a friendly and modest expression on his kindly face. If it goes wrong, he will announce with fury that There Is No Need For Me To Go To College, I Know Everything And I Am The Ruler Of The Universe.

I, being his mother, want the best for him. He will leave our little seaside town (where he knows for a fact that everyone is inbred and racist and ugly) and, he says, never come back. (But don't rent his room out, because it's his.) He will go to London where everyone is clever, interesting, worth knowing. Where he will be understood and loved and there will be endless new people to tell what to do. Being a mother to this wonderful young man means that I am Wrong, Old, Wrong Again and Sometimes Quite Nice. It means that whatever he wants, whatever he dreams of doing, never happened to me. All the fun, exploration, ambition and need to escape that he so passionatly wants, was never my experience at 16. So I am taking a step back and giving him to his aunt, who is possibly the best person on this earth for him at the moment, and hoping all those fascinating friends he finds will really have that elusive quality that no one in West Sussex has. I am hoping that the Learning that his London College offers him is really different to the Learning down here in West Sussex. That going back to London, from where he moved when he was 11 years old, will take up where he feels he left off.

Here, in this big house, I will have 12 Year Old Son and Me. And the hamster (who for some reason is still alive. It is so old and has so much food and drink and fresh sawdust it probably has defied its genes and is going to go for the hamster equivalent of 113). And Alan will come and stay. I can't wait.

Monday 27 July 2009

My Lfe's Work

It feels impossible to make headway. How do I get my Life's Work done? How do I know what that is?

My Life's Work involves painting, and thinking, and writing, and talking. All expressive things, all about Giving Out. It amounts to Me Doing My Thing Without Hitches.

The effect of My Life's Work involves everyone sitting down with a bump with the sheer splendour of what I am offering them. It involves ladies feeling faint and taking out lacey fans to fan themselves, and strong men feeling the need to go and stand alone on the veranda and take deep breaths. Oh and it involves Like Minded People shaking my hand and saying with their eyes,boring deeply into mine, So That's What It's All About. And offering me a week at the Albert Hall to a sell out audience to show my Paintings and Explain What I Mean By It All.

How to get there? Well, I am in my studio doing lots and lots of paper work. I am not the Great One today. I am the back room office girl, looking things up and sending things off and turning the pages of Factual Books with very small print and no pictures. I am working out the Next Step. I am trying not to go on Facebook. I am wading through lists of Ideas and Things To Be Done (before taking The Next Step) (Whatever That Is). I am gazing at the rain and grateful that the hammock is no temptation to me today. I am wondering if 12 year old son will remember my promise to make him a big cooked breakfast, and whether 16 year old son has any more ideas on how I should run my life and where I have gone wrong.

Well. Today I will do the following.

  • Pack up and send two prints to a lovely lady who wants them. Anyone who wants what I do is Lovely and needs to be worshipped.
  • This blog. I will reveal to the world that I am as usual, wondering how I got here.
  • Finish my Jesus on the Tube promotion poster and put it up in at least one place. Not my kitchen, somewhere public.
  • Finish my Summer Art Sessions for Blocked Creatives poster and put it up where I don't get loonies applying
  • Feed the 12 year old his breakfast and ask the 16 year old to be concise when cornering me about Where I Am Going Wrong And What I Should Do.

Today seems grey and full of effort. Tomorrow is another story completely. I shall spend all of tomorrow painting and that is always A Good Thing.

Here, before I go, is a miracle. 16 Year Old Son has just asked me if I want a cup of tea. Now I need to sit down with bump and fan my self with a lacey fan.

Friday 24 July 2009

A Day Where The Minutes Tick By And Everything Takes On Huge Significance

It is that kind of day. The wind is blowing, the sun is shining and the rain it raineth. And somehow time both stands still and moves at the speed of light. This takes on apocolyptic significance, how can it only be 1.30pm when hours ago it was 1.15pm? And yet, and yet; all the things that you should have done to make your world right, and your life possible, are not even begun. It is past midday, that means the evening will be upon you and you still have not made your fortune, won the Nobel Prize for being You, and found out why your children think you are a bit odd. But, you have made a list and filed today's letters (letter) and sorted out the washing. Soon, you tell yourself, soon you will check your emails and you feel very busy indeed. And then, then you remember again, that the evening will be followed by the night, and by then it will be too late, you are doomed. Doomed to never have painted that masterpiece, never to have understood why men behave one way and women another, and never to have met Lionel Blue.

So here I am in my studio. It is past midday, and the evening has not yet come. I have made a list and sorted out my letter (in the bin) and have got 19 Year Old Daughter to do the washing. I am sure that all will be well. The things I have to do today are very small indeed, and those small things will make bigger things possible. I have four of these small important things to do, and you will be as relieved as I am that none of them include cold calling. Not even to Lionel Blue.

The picture is of me in a Veronese Mausoleum looking at photos and momentoes of those for whom time has run out. Their washing, emails, letters and dreams are all done now. Mine aren't however, so I had better get on. Allelulia.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Painting a Thin Sad Man's Face

Last night I started to put together Steve's pictures. I have photos and painted attempts from winter 2007; I wrote on some of the wood then because images were too difficult to do. Reading those last night made me realise how important it was to try and get some of the anguish out of my body and on to paper, or wood. I work on wood. Mostly. So I have chunks of prepared wood, primed and white and ready, with very desparate messages on them. On one of the images I painted of Steve in his chair a day or so before he died, has the most heart wrenching scrawl all over the background.

I believed quite happily in God till the day Steve died. At some point during the morning when I sat with his body, I came to the conclusion that I had willingly and ignorantly colluded with this God nonsense. I didn't think Thy Will Be Done. I thought Bugger That. I found this sentence on one of the blocks of wood

"I don't have to obey you I can't hear you speaking I can't listen because you don't say anything"

and I think that was in response to God Knows Best from some well meaning person. I wanted to hit them with the piece of wood with the message on it.

I feel differently now. It will be two years exactly when I put on this exhibition, and I am ready to tie up all the images and thoughts of those days in 2007 with the the thoughts and feelings of today, in 2009.

So I am painting a thin sad man now. He was 6'2" and fairly overweight eight weeks before this picture. There are so many sinews in a thin neck and shoulders. Steve's skin is yellow and his big round eyes are yellow and thoughtful. His eyes got bigger and bigger as he lost his weight. It is so beautiful, this thinness. It is awesome and remote, it is a body slowly disappearing. I remember my brother getting Steve a child's shirt to wear, all his shirts were like a big man's shirt on a thin wire coat hanger. I am painting this image on a small square of wood, and will paint another image of the same face at a different stage on another piece of wood to made a diptych.

Monday 20 July 2009

PR, Swine Flu, More PR, Cup of Tea.

Today I am meeting my Avoidance Demon head on. Monday came as it always does, and here I am in the studio, avoiding things. Actually, the Things I Don't Want To Do are not hard, most people could do them. I think they are weighed down with Psychological Baggage. Bear in mind I am doing my own Do Your Own PR course with Paula Gardner ( and that entails focus and cold calling. I am also starting to prepare the Steve Shaw exhibition in December, on his last few days and his death. That entails sadness. So this is what it boils down to

  • Names and addresses of media contacts. Who are these people and how do I find them? And where do I start?
  • Press release for womens and lifestyle mags. My mind is a blank. I have no lifestyle I am unable to comment on what I do because I can't remember.
  • Send in the press release. To whom? I did get some names and addresses but they have morphed into a big scarey mass of people who hate me
  • Twitter. Connect with people in the art world. What art world? There is no art world. There is only a void, and I am in it.
  • Blog. Investigate other blogs. I feel I need a couple of paracetamol and a lie down. You mean there are other blogs out there? I have competition?

And then there is the Exhibition. Here is what that boils down to

  • Bring back from the cobwebby corners of my studio all the paintings I did while Steve was dying and the week after he died. Look at them.
  • Open the file with all the photos and notes I took at that time. Read them.
  • Take a deep breath.
  • Get the tissues ready and let it all happen.
  • Tell the family and Alan that doing this may make me wobbly and sad but to let it happen and not take it personally
  • Tell them too that it will be the best exhibition in the world so perhaps I should be excused things like housework, sharing my sweeties, being a taxi, being nice, for a while.

Amongst all this, 19 year old daughter has come home to me with Swine Flu. She is very poorly, and I am keeping an eye on her. 12 year old son has also mild Swine Flu. Tomorrow morning early I collect 16 year old son from the airport where he flies in from Detroit. I will bring him home to get his Swine Flu and then we will all be sorted. I think I had it on Saturday but by Sunday it was gone, so I had Piglet Flu. Mums don't get ill, we are robots and are invincible.

Now that I have made public that I am meeting the Avoidance Demon head on, I had better do it. I have made timetable for this week and have to be very strict with myself. Making a list is only a start. It does not get me Media Names and Addresses, does not get me a Press Release, does not get me into the Studio. (My office is in a room in front of the Studio proper, and I have to walk throught the office to get to the Painting Part). So. Antonia Rolls. Find a nice lifestyle journalist and bowl them over with your day to day existence. After you have had a nice cup of tea.

Monday 13 July 2009

What To Do, How To Do It. Oh For A Timetable.

Today, Monday, arrived like any other day. At midnight I quietly left the weekend and life became Grown Up again. When I woke at 6.30am I knew I wasn't going to have a run because it was school holidays and my dear sunburnt 12 year old didn't need to go anywhere. So there is the first hole in my day. I stayed in bed till 8.30am by which time my life was ruined and there was no point in continuing it's the workhouse for me and my boys. My daughter in Brighton will have to work extra hard to get us out and keep us.

I got up and decided to wear my new shorts. They fit, and I am entitled to wear shorts, and I am normal and so on. But I never wear shorts because of my varicose veins and the unhealthy state of my legs. Be Bloody Bold and Resolute I told my face the mirror. Today, you get used to wearing shorts, if nothing else. That is your task. And when friend comes to drop son off to stay with my son, don't answer the door with only your shoulders showing. Don't make them precede you into the kitchen and hide behind every waist high piece of furniture on the way to make the tea. And don't wait till they are blinking before darting from behind them to hide behind the bit of the kitchen on which you put chopping boards and prepare the vegetables. No. Be tough, like Nelson Mandela, and walk like you invented shorts.

I go into 12 year old son and check on his face. Yesterday at his football tournament he got a ball full in the face and was carried off the field. Today his nose is large and I think he is getting black eyes. On top of that I didn't give him any suncream so he is daglo pink. And so are his knees below his shorts and above his shin pads. Except funnily enough, where there were lumps of mud on his exposed skin. Poor kid. He certainly starts his first day of the holidays with war wounds. Aaaag Mum, he says as he wakes up. What happened to your legs. It's gross. I put on a Mary Poppins smile and say Darling it's Mummy's varicose veins. Thinking that if he says any more I will tell him it's his fault as he was such a big baby he caused, single handed, these veins. But I didn't, because that wouldn't be either fair or true, and Nelson Mandela wouldn't do something vengeful like that.

So I am holding my shoulders back and in the studio. There is so much to do and all of it bitty and too difficult. I feel on the one hand, my life is an open book blah di blah and I can make it all work blah di blah. On the other I think What on earth am I doing? What's today all about? How can I justify my existance this jolly Monday morning, how can I make a start if I don't know what I am doing? So I made some tea. I decided that my legs were going to be my best feature from now on, and I would wear shorts, in public, a lot. No, not at night. During the day. At the shops, answering the door, on the train. I decided that my veins were not half as bad as my 12 year old son's poor pink bashed up face and that he was just jealous. I decided to do as my very wise and wonderful friend Eileen (photographer extraordinaire) suggested to me ages ago, Just Turn Up. I decided to file away all the bits of paper on my desk and see what happened.

Well, nothing atomic happened. But, I made a list of things to do on my whiteboard that were easy to cross off (check emails, research facebook and twitter, see how far away Nottingham is). I went through the mountain of notes and scribbles on my desk and wrote down all the relevant stuff on a fresh piece of paper. And do you know, it only took an A5 piece of paper to contain all my anguished notes and thoughts? And now I have a future. My life will not end because I didn't run today. My legs are my best feature. 12 year old son is swinging around on my hammock having had 3 sausages, 2 fried eggs on toast, a tin of beans and some flapjacks I just made (so he will recover and has forgotten that his face looks like a cauliflower and his legs look like those old red and white barber's signs). My mind is getting clearer, and I have an A5 piece of paper on which my future is based. Nelson Mandela would love me.

Friday 10 July 2009

I Live With Bill Sykes

12 Year Old Son came home from school two days ago delighted that he had got the part of Bill Sykes in the school play Oliver, to be performed next term. Lovely, I said. I did try, he told me, for Fagin and the Artful Dodger, but being one of the tallest in his year meant that he would have had to remain seated if he was Dodger, as the rest of the cast come up to his armpits.

Last night he came home with the script. During dinner he growled and tested his voice for meanness on me. Siddown, he barked when I got up. What? I said looking quizzical. He fixed me with a look of calculated malice and repied, Oi said Siddown. Bitch. He wiped his nose on the back of his hand and I sat down. Will that do? He said. Is that evil enough? I was relieved, 12 year old son hadn't taken mind altering drugs, he was In Character.

So as the meal progressed, 12 year old son swore, snarled and looked furious. When he stood up he hooked his thumbs into the top of his trousers and kicked the chair. It was wonderful, he was very Victorian Thug. I briefly wondered about his Nancy, and when Bill had retreated a bit and Son came back I asked him. The girl playing Nancy is a sweet talented tall and elegant child, with wonderful manners and possibly going to have a shock when confronted with my method acting son who, in the end, has to kill her. I will leave it to the teachers to apply some boundaries.

Later on, in the bath, it sounded as if 12 year old son was having an argument. In fact, he was reading the entire script, in character, and putting his all into it. I was very tired and went to read in bed. In comes Bill after the bath and says Can I sing you my song? Yes I said, feeling proud that he had no hangups about being the whole cast of Oliver at once. For his Mum.

I hear, this morning, that I fell asleep during his violent interpretation of Bill's song, Nobody Mentions My Name. I do remember just closing my eyes briefly while 12 year old son was experimenting with Intimidation and Threat in the song. I have a hazy memory of someone turning off my light and closing my door. Poor Bill.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Back With A Bump (To England From Fair Verona)

Luisa and Daughter at the cooking class, Verona

19 Year Old Daughter took me to Verona for a cooking lesson. Her friend's mother's friend won it on a radio competition, and one thing led to another, and I went along to cook gnocchi in Verona. We stayed in a medieaval villa, with every inch quietly muttering Taste, History, Style. The man who owned and ran it, having married into the Family, was multi lingual, slender, tall and straight off the cover of a Mills and Boon book. His knowledge of wines (the villa had so much land it looked like the size of Wales) and vineyards was staggering. He took us as part of our package, on a tour of some of the vineyards and I wondered goggle eyed at how some people can do so much and make it sound so simple.

I am back now, sitting in my studio wondering if it had been a dream. I can, of course, cook gnocchi now and will do so, at the drop of a hat. I can also cook a baked almond biscuit tart and tomato soup and the kind and lovely cook with whom we made great friends, gave me some Apple Jam and some huge sage leaves to take back with me.

Going over, the security at the airport was intense. Daughter and I removed all our potentially explosive shampoo, sun cream and deodorant from our hand luggage, and put them in seethrough airport plastic bags. Daughter was still stopped at security for having nail scissors at the bottom of her bag, and the said nail scissors were taken for a controlled explosion before she could say Ooops, sorry. We were asked many times to confess who had really packed our bags (Confess, hapless Traveller, your bags were packed by a man in a mask and an assault rifle) and suggestions cleverly made that someone had asked us to take an unknown package with us, if you please (I know we have never met before, but would you mind taking this ticking envelope in your bag to my Auntie in Afganistan? Thank you so much).

Oh but coming back. Our cooking teacher Luisa, ( in the photo to the right, took us to lunch at her house near the airport. You must, she said, take this rooted sage plant back with you. And this pot of Apple Jam. Daughter and I said we would never get it through Security as it looked suspiciously like a large clump of marijuana. And smelt like it too. Alora! cried Luisa, here is a brown paper bag to hide it in! You can hide it in your bag and they will never know! Daughter and I thought of the cells waiting for us in an Italian prison, and shivered. And, said the wonderful Luisa, here is a pot of Apple Jam I have just made. You must have it. Oh dear we said, it is over 100mls. Even Apple Jam is dangerous on an aeroplane if more than 100mls. Anything could happen. Luisa assured us that we had only to present ourselves to security a few minutes before the plane takes off, it is no trouble, the Apple Jam is delicious.

So Daughter and I went to the airport, driven by Luisa, with a bag smelling of Drugs and sloshing around with More Than 100mls Of Apple Jam. We thought we should get it over and done with, and went straight for security. We crept through and I was called aside. This is it I thought, Goodbye Cruel World, Undone by Sage and a pot of Apple Jam. But no, the security guard put his hand in my bag and riffling past the brown paper bag with the huge sage leaves and plants (Luisa was right, the brown paper bag was too sophisticated for not only the guards, but the x ray machine), pulled out the Apple Jam. Jam, I croaked in my best Italian. Of Apples, I said. The guard removed the lid, and gave it a sniff. He looked delighted, it was a very nice smell. He took it to his co workers and they all gave it a sniff and looked carefully at it, smiling happily. Not much was said, but what was said may well have been Oh these tourists have been at Luisa's. I must remember to get the recipe for this Apple Jam, my old mother keeps asking me. The other guard may have said Well, why not confiscate this pot, and give it to your mother? Simple.

However, we got the pot back before the Italian security guard could make up his mind and call his mother, and with huge relief, we arrived back in the UK.

So today, I have such boring stuff to do. It includes a filling at the dentist and a haircut. I do have tea with an old friend too, which is nice, but I have my PR homework to do too and that is so difficult. However, I have Apple Jam and Sage leaves to cheer me up. Hooray.

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Not A Day For Wimps

This morning my list of things to do included checking 16 year old Son online onto his flight. checking 19 year old Daughter and me online onto our flight. Getting 12 year old boy up and off to school with his cricket gear, going for a run (oh the pain and how I dragged my feet but I did it, knowing that I would go to Heaven when I died because I know how to suffer). And, shopping for goodies for 6'2" Son on the plane to Detroit to eat (Make it fat free, healthy and vegetarian and don't stint on the chocolate Mother). And sending presents to my cousins who are all having a go of him in USA. And then, 12 year old son says he has a school outing tomorrow, packed lunch needed and a ten pound note and could I say he is sick, he doesn't want to go.

I sail above it all. I do it all. I ignore 12 year olds efforts at sickness and give permission for him to go by email. I save all my grumbling and astonishment that I am not only an Artist, but a Mother, a Taxi, a Banker, a Social Worker and now a Travel Agent, for when I meet a friend later who foolishly asks me How Are You? Then I will tell it like it is.

And Art? Pah! Art. Next week, next week I am an Artist again. This week I am as Actors are, resting. This week I am not required to be creative, thoughtful and colourful. This week I am not reqired to delve into my soul and be spectacularly arty. This week I am frantically trying to get my children out of the country and the one that is left to friends and his Grandmothers. I am required to run my household and teenagers on a par, I feel, with managing United Nations.

This week too, I started my Do Your Own PR course with Paula Gardner, over the phone and email. In between everything else, (I forgot the dentist. First time in 2 years the boys and I went to the dentist. Both boys cheering each other up by saying the other may well die under the anasthetic that very day and what's more, it would be a very painful way to go. We only went for a check up, but by the time the 12 year old had his turn -last - he was pale and limp and almost passed out when asked to open his mouth.) in between everything else, I must write up an excel spreadsheet with all my new journalistic contacts. Easy! I cry. I am a Mother, a Travel Agent, a Taxi, a Social Worker, an Artist. What is it to me that I now become a PR Guru?

16 year old son has gone to Brighton now. It was essential he went, no one would forgive him if he didn't. He can pack later he says. Well, we leave at 4.30am tomorrow I say, ready or not. And just to prove how tough and unconcerned I am, I am going to check all his clothes, and find him some suitcases, and make a folder of all his travel documents.